If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is an ankle sprain?
Your ankle is the joint that connects your leg to your foot. This joint is made up of many bones. The bones are connected to the joint with three ligaments. These ligaments keep the bones from moving out of place. An ankle sprain happens when one or more of those ligaments is stretched or torn.
The severity of an ankle sprain depends on how badly the ligaments are stretched or torn. If the sprain is mild, there may not be much pain or swelling, and the ligaments may only be stretched. If the sprain is severe, one of more ligaments may be torn, and the join may be severely swollen. A severe sprain can also be extremely painful.
Symptoms of an ankle sprain
Symptoms of ankle sprains include:
The signs of an ankle sprain can include:
- pain or tenderness
- coldness or numbness in the foot
- inability to walk or bear weight on the joint
Typically, with mild sprains, you may have stiffness while walking. That should get better in a few days to a few weeks. People who have moderate and severe sprains may have limits for several weeks. And they may have ankle pain for a year or more.
What causes an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprains often occur during physical activity. Sometimes they can happen when you walk or run on a rough surface. The unevenness can make you fall, land on your ankle wrong, and sprain it.
People who have high arches in their feet or weak muscles are more likely to sprain their ankles. And if you’ve sprained your ankle before, you’re more likely to sprain it again
How are ankle sprains diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will usually be able to tell if you have a sprain by asking you some questions about how the injury occurred and by examining your ankle. You healthcare provider may also want to take an X-ray of your ankle to make sure that it’s not fractured or broken.
Can an ankle sprain be prevented or avoided?
There are ways to help prevent an ankle sprain. You can do exercises to strengthen your ankle and the muscles around it. These exercises stabilize your ankle and improve your balance. It is also important to stretch before and after you exercise.
Whether you’ve had an ankle sprain before or not, wear supportive shoes. This helps prevent your foot from twisting or your ankle joint from moving out of place. You may also find it helpful to wear an ankle brace when playing sports, running or jogging. This may add stability to your ankle.
How to treat a sprained ankle
You can treat a lot of ankle sprains at home. Many healthcare providers recommend the RICE approach (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), listed below.
- Rest — All ankle sprains require rest. The length of time will depend on the severity of sprain. Your healthcare provider can help you with a timeline. You may need to use crutches if it hurts to put weight on your foot.
- Ice — Ice helps decrease swelling, bruising, pain, and muscle spasms. Putting ice on your ankle is helpful, but you need to be careful. Place a thin, damp cloth on your ankle before applying the ice. That will help protect your skin from frostbite. Also, cold can also damage your nerves if you leave ice in place too long. You should only use ice for up to 20 minutes at a time. If your skin feels numb, it’s time to remove the ice. Keep using ice for up to 3 days after the injury.
- Compression — You can wrap your sprained ankle to avoid swelling and bruising. You might need to do this for several days or a week after your injury. Your healthcare provider can show you the best way to do this.
- Elevation — Raise your ankle at or above the level of your heart. This helps prevent the swelling from getting worse and reduces bruising. Try to keep your ankle elevated for about 2 to 3 hours a day.
To help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may suggest you take over-the-counter medicine. Examples include acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin).
For more severe sprains. You may need additional treatment. Your healthcare provider might give you a cast, boot, or brace to wear. This will keep the ligaments and joint in place while they heal. It limits motion, provides protection, and helps reduce pain. You may need to wear it for 2 to 6 weeks. Your healthcare provider may also refer you to physical therapy. The amount and length of time of treatment will depend on the grade of your sprain and your state of health.
Living with a sprained ankle
Ankle sprains are common problems, but they do heal. However, depending on the severity of your sprain, you may not be able to return to normal activities right away. Your healthcare provider can provide a time frame for your situation. Once you return to regular activities, you still may need to wear an ankle brace or bandage for support and protection.
Your healthcare provider or physical therapist may provide a list of ankle exercises for you to do. This will help strengthen your muscles. They will tell you when to start the exercises and how long to do them. Depending on the severity of the sprain, you may need to do them for several weeks. It’s important you do the exercises for the amount of time your healthcare provider says. This will help prevent future sprains.